Impressions By Candlelight

It’s been over 10 days now since we’ve been on The Black Continent – and it seems to me it’s got its nickname for mainly one reason: its power outages. Botswana is a country that presents itself to a westerner as a challenging yet very exciting place to be. I gather such thoughts from my North American colleagues, but they do not necessarily portray my own perceptions and subsequent impressions that come from them.

The very first thing I noticed upon crossing the border into Botswana was the picture of the president, hung on the customs walls. It didn’t take long to discover His Excellency’s portrait is to be found pretty much everywhere you go: hotels, lodges, restaurants, public institutions, banks.

In a country where the main post office in the capital city does not have post cards for sale, a bi-weekly energy curtailment program should come as no surprise to anyone. That is, if you live for instance in ‘extension 10’ (the area of Gaborone that we spend most of our time in), the power is out every Monday and Thursday during the evening hours in what we were told to be part of rationalized energy program, as well as at any given time of any given day when a storm happens to hit.

Botswana gets its food and power supplies almost entirely from its neighbor, South Africa, so that explains the restrictions. Tonight we had the imposed curtailment, which led us to go back to Mozart’s times; yesterday night there was a storm, which made us proud of the almighty flashlight apps for iPhone.

Talking about the storm, it so seldom happens here to rain, that the pouring rain was a real blessing for the locals. The sky offered some really extraordinary beams of light cutting through the thick, stormy clouds that soon were to take down our electricity, and with it, the internet for the next 24h. I can’t recall when or where was the last time I caught on camera such images.

Closing skies in Gaborone

Closing skies in Gaborone

On Saturday we had our Jewelry Box concert, which was very well received by our small (albeit dedicated) audience. It is such a comforting feeling for me to play with Lindsay and Nani, both exceptionally experienced musicians. Some of you reading these lines might be familiar with the vast corpus of jokes that exist about singers. If you do, you would also know they are not necessarily overwhelmingly complimenting. Well, let me tell you these two women are not just singers, but first class intellectuals. With degrees from Juilliard, Cornell, and Mozarteum Salzburg, good luck keeping up a conversation with them!

Sunday was our day off, so to speak. Waking up at 5:00am to climb Kgale hill/mountain, we missed the sun rise, but the view from the top was astounding nevertheless. It was there overlooking the Botswana panorama that I learned every single Botswanan is entitled to have a piece of land, free of charge, should they request it from the government. What you do with it afterwards, it’s up to you.
After the descent, we enjoyed a copious brunch at David Slater’s, followed by a shopping spree at a local craft shop. The prices were of course a little spiced up, special dedication “for ze Amerrricans”, but nothing a good bargaining wouldn’t do. The evening brought us a phenomenal performance by one of the best local choirs, singing mainly traditional Tswanan songs, as well as some English ones. They are going on a tour of UK in the fall, that’s how good they are.

We have also managed to visit the campus of University of Botswana. With about 17,000 enrolled students, it offers a rather stricking view compared to the rest of the city. The buildings are new, and the dynamic of the campus created the impression we were somewhere else.

Our masterclasses and workshops continue, with new things going on every day. This evening we coached singers at candlelight – it surely reminded me of the times when, as a child, every now and then I had to do my homework Mozart-style.

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